|Frankie Darro and Edwin Phillips|
During the depression, two friends, Eddie (Frankie Darro of No Greater Glory) and Tommy (Edwin Phillips), decide to leave town and look for work when it is clear that their desperate parents haven't enough money to provide for them. On the rails the fellows meet a young lady named Sally (Dorothy Coonan) who is hoping to hook up with her aunt. Things don't quite work out as planned for any of them ... Wild Boys of the Road, a rather heavy-handed message film, purports to be a study of the situation of homeless youth in the thirties, but unfortunately it has too much of an Eastside Kids sensibility to be the masterpiece it might have been. The light touch throughout most of the film is at odds with the very grim subject matter, and once the ever-weird Sterling Holloway [Cheers for Miss Bishop] shows up the picture almost loses it completely. On the other hand, the acting is quite good (even if Darro is a little too "gosh darn" at times) and the close relationship between the young men is often touching. A scene when one of the boys is hit by a train is horrifying and very well done. Grant Mitchell makes an impression as Eddie's desperate father, middle-aged and out of work and facing eviction from his home, and there are other able supporting performances. The picture resolves many things a bit too neatly (although there is no assurance of happiness for any of the characters), but this has many very lovely things in it, especially a moving scene between Eddie and his dad when the former sells his beloved old car for needed money. Edwin Phillips was a very talented and attractive actor but he only appeared in three films; he lived until 1981. After appearing in just a few movies Dorothy Coonan married director Wellman the following year, retired from films (aside from one bit credit years later), and had seven children with Wellman. Wellman also directed the original A Star is Born and many, many others.
NOTE: In 1932 William Wyler and John Huston were planning to collaborate on a film about just this situation entitled The Forgotten Boys, but it was shelved when reforestation camps opened to employ these youths that same year and the situation changed. It would have been interesting to see Wyler's version of the story, which probably would have been more powerful.
Verdict: The flaws pale besides the honest sentiment. ***.